Interview:Nintendo Dream August 30th 2007

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Nintendo Dream: Congratulations on the upcoming release of the first DS Zelda title!

Aonuma: Thank you!

ND: In the interview we had on Twilight Princess (February 2007 issue), you mentioned that you were giving the final touches to the DS Zelda game and it was shaping up to be great. But to be honest, I was a bit skeptical.

Aonuma: So you didn't trust me (laughs).

ND: Yes (laughs). But once I played it, I thought it was great. I feel it certainly is the best title of the series.

Aonuma: I'm glad to hear that.

ND: When did the development of this title start?

Iwamoto: It was around May 2004, right after we finished the Four Swords Adventures game. The DS hadn't been released yet and the game was in the experimental stage. We started by trying many ideas on how to use the stylus and the two screens.

Aonuma: There were many other DS games in development at the time, so we worked at a relatively easy pace. During the first year, we had a team of just five people.

ND: In the previous interview you said they were quietly burning with passion.

Aonuma: Yeah (laughs).

Iwamoto: Burning or burnt (laughs)? We were a small group for quite some time.

ND: Were you also involved since the beginning, Mr. Fujibayashi?

Fujibayashi: I got involved halfway through development. When I joined, they were working on the fundamental parts of moving Link with the stylus and writing on the map.

ND: How did you end up with a game like this?

Iwamoto: At first we worked on creating a game that followed the connectivity style of Four Swords Adventures with the two screens, but then Mr. Aonuma suggested we didn't continue with that. He said we should think of a completely new Zelda gameplay that would become a DS standard. We didn't mind the simplicity, so we ended up with the idea of a stylus-controlled game.

Aonuma: When we decided to use just the stylus to control the game and after Fujibayashi joined the team, everyone worked on making that gameplay possible. We moved in that direction and in March 2006, Mr. Iwata said at the GDC that the game would come out that same year. But in the end, the release date was moved to 2007.

ND: Did you have a stormy passage during development?

Aonuma: No, the DS game was coming along nicely, but after finishing Twilight Princess, I wanted to get deeply involved in the development, so I delayed the release date.

ND: A special privilege of the producer, huh (laughs)? But having more time helped you to polish the game more.

Aonuma: At first, we had the idea of creating a good game in a short time. We thought Brain Age was our rival. Brain Age's like that smart transfer student. The Zelda Team's not in the top places, but it studies hard. And then comes this transfer student and easily gets the first place without studying. That's very frustrating. After three long years, we finally finished Twilight Princess and the transfer student's the one that's smart and cool and gets the firs place? Damn it (laughs)!

ND: So you wanted the DS Zelda to be smart?

Aonuma: But after all, you can't create a smart, cool Zelda game in a short time (laughs).

Iwamoto: In the beginning, we were making a compact game, but as we worked on it, we wanted more...

Aonuma: Ideas came one right after the another, and that's how it kept growing.

Fujibayashi: When I joined the development team (slightly extending both hands), I was told the game was supposed to have a certain scale, but I thought to myself that it wouldn't be possible (laughs).

Iwamoto: When he joined the team, he made sure to confirm that. He asked what the scope of the game was.

Fujibayashi: They told me that it was a 2~3 in a scale of 0 to 10, but I had my doubts since the very beginning.

Aonuma: Mr. Iwamoto, the director, is the kind of person that starts working diligently on small things and makes them grow fast. On the other hand, Mr. Fujibayashi, the sub-director, understands pretty well the fate a Zelda game can have if you just keep expanding it, and he works with the big picture in mind. So, I think they make a well-balanced team.


ND: By the way, you mentioned Mr. Miyamoto upended the tea table several times during the development of Twilight Princess, but how was it this time?

Aonuma: He didn't do it. Of course, he checked the fundamental parts at the beginning. Then, I asked him to play an almost finished version. Some time later he called me and all he said was that it was fun and he thought it'd sell well.

ND: You did such a good job that not even Mr. Miyamoto had any complaints.

Aonuma: Well, I did upend the tea table repeatedly before showing the game to Mr. Miyamoto (laughs).

Fujibayashi: He didn't just say, "No," though. He gave us some solutions of his own.

Aonuma: That's because the game was coming along nicely thanks to the effort of everyone. And when things are going good, it just makes you want to improve even more.

ND: With what parts, for example?

Aonuma: The progression of the first part of the game, for example. When I first saw it, it didn't draw me in at all. I thought it wouldn't attract the player to be Link and go out on an adventure like that, so I said it was no good.

Fujibayashi: Back then, there were too many explanations of the plot.

Aonuma: So we divided them in many small parts, and Mr. Miyamoto didn't say anything about that.

ND: Mr. Aonuma, you have previously stated that even when Mr. Miyamoto upends the tea table, he helps to put things in order, but what about yourself?

Aonuma: (Looking at Mr. Iwamoto and Mr. Fujibayashi) I do help, don't I?

Fujibayashi: After he's upended the table, he looks at the situation and arranges the table again.


ND: Due to the widespread popularization of the DS, I think there are many people who'll play a Zelda title for the first time. Did you think in those people when you decided to control the game with just the stylus?

Aonuma: There are many elements that will cater to the traditional Zelda fans, but complex controls aren't necessary for either beginners or veterans to enjoy a game. A comfortable control scheme is better in that way, so we opted for the stylus controls. I think it's the most suitable option for people playing Zelda for the first time. I can't think of anything better at the moment.

ND: The story is a sequel to The Wind Waker, but will people be able to have fun with this game even if they didn't play The Wind Waker?

Aonuma: They have nothing to worry about. Conversely, I think they can play The Wind Waker after PH. The story's somehow connected to The Wind Waker, but it doesn't mean you need to know the previous story to enjoy this game. It's always the same with Zelda games, we think of the story and the setting after the game mechanics. So maybe this time Mr. Fujibayashi, who wrote the story, had the toughest time (laughs)?

Fujibayashi: I was handed down the material in pieces and I had to connect them so that they made sense. Furthermore, Mr. Iwamoto kept telling me that Lineback wouldn't say this or that.

Iwamoto: That's because I was particularly concerned about Lineback, Link's partner in this adventure.

Aonuma: He's like Mr. Iwamoto's child, so to speak.

ND: There's a lot of people who have this prejudice of Zelda games having very difficult puzzles.

Aonuma: Hmm... While it's true that Zelda games do have many puzzles you must solve, I think it's really fun when you unexpectedly solve one and that makes you feel happy, or even intelligent. However, starting with the N64, players had to memorize the button-input moves in order to taste that fun. This only gave non-players an image of a bothersome game and it alienated them more. This time, we thought of delivering the essential fun of puzzle-solving with the stylus as the only input method, so you don't need any previous experience. You just have to give it a try and you'll feel the fun.

ND: When you get to play Phantom Hourglass, you want to recommend it to the surrounding people.

Aonuma: That's why I've reserved five copies of Phantom Hourglass to give to my friends. I just want them to play it. If they play the game, I think they'll spread the word.

ND: Are those friends of yours famous TV stars?

Aonuma: No, no, they're just ordinary friends. This last New Year's Day, I met with a junior high classmate after a long time (laughs). When I said I was in the gaming industry, she told me her son had a Wii. But then I asked her if he had played Twilight Princess and she replied he hadn't. I said to myself, "How come!" (laughs)

ND: Maybe you should give out a Twilight Princess-Phantom Hourglass pack (laughs).

Aonuma: If I did that, my wife would yell at me (laughs). We did Twilight Princess so that everyone could play it, but when we finished Phantom Hourglass, I wanted people of my generation to play it.

ND: Do your friends have a DS?

Aonuma: Yeah, and they all play Brain Age (laughs).


ND: Having stylus-only controls was something daring.

Iwamoto: When we started experimenting with the stylus controls, there were still some buttons being used, but holding the stylus with one hand and pressing buttons with the other was a bit difficult. So, we decided we might as well forbid using the buttons.

Aonuma: I gave the order to forbid using the buttons (laughs). It takes some time to adjust the controls to be comfortable, be it buttons or stylus.

Iwamoto: In the end we assigned shortcuts to some buttons, but you can play without using them at all. Some people thought we should include the button input, but once we decided to use just the stylus, they didn't mention it again.

ND: Were you confident you could create a game controlled exclusively with the stylus?

Iwamoto: We weren't exactly confident, but we weren't insecure either. We had many problems, of course, but we didn't think even once that it wouldn't work.

Aonuma: Once we could control the boomerang with the stylus, it seemed we could make it possible with the other actions. It took us many adjustments to get to such comfortable controls, though.

ND: The boomerang's great. When I first saw the screenshots, I thought it was the same and you just added the path-tracing part.

Aonuma: You underestimated it, huh?

ND: Yes (laughs).

Hagishima: (The PR person present who couldn't resist to talk) Even when it's the same old boomerang, now that you can trace its path, the way to solve puzzles changes completely.

ND: Exactly. When you throw the boomerang, you get to see what lies a bit further, and it feels good when you use it.

Iwamoto: Since the boomerang has a big impact, we intentionally made it available early in the game. Both beginners and veterans will start from the same position in regards to controlling it with the stylus, so please give it a try.

Fujibayashi: I'm looking forward to hearing the impressions on the stylus controls from those people who wanted to play using the buttons. We developed the controls so that the game would be very fun to play.


ND: When I first heard you could write notes on the map, I thought it'd be bothersome, but when I actually tried it...

Aonuma: Heh... You really did underestimate it, didn't you (luaghs)?

ND: Yes (laughs).

Fujibayashi: When I play an RPG, I write down some small details in the blank space of guide books or magazines, and I think everybody does the same. In consequence, I thought it'd be nice if you could note down those small details on the DS screen.

ND: On previous screenshots there was an "erase all" icon, but now it's gone, right?

Iwamoto: We thought it wouldn't be right if you just erased all your notes just to have a clean screen, so we got rid of that icon.

Aonuma: Since you don't erase it, it sticks to your memory. And if you look the notes you wrote down earlier in the game, you may find the mistakes you did and smile at them.

ND: You can see your own youth through those early notes (laughs).

Iwamoto: Then you think you should've written them so that they were easier to understand (laughs).

Fujibayashi: Or that you should've used more legible letters (laughs).

Aonuma: Or that you wrote the letters so big you now have no space left (laughs).

ND: You can take notes in many places, not only in dungeons.

Aonuma: Up until now, having a puzzle that required the player to memorize something, like difficult codes, was kind of a taboo in Zelda games. But now with the notes feature, we daringly included many of those elements to help develop the habit of taking notes. You may even forget you wrote down something useful and when you get to the place where you need that note, you'll remember you did and look at your map.

ND: In the previous games, when you didn't remember an important hint, you had to go all the way back to the place where you got it.

Iwamoto: Just like with the boomerang, I feel that this feature has changed the way you play the game. Thanks to it, we don't have all the hints crammed into a compact place, but we were able to scatter them all around the world.

Aonuma: And since you write things down, they stick to your memory more vividly, and you remember them even after some time.

Hagishima: Writing's a stimulus for the brain.

ND: So your brain gets younger (luaghs)!?

Aonuma: See? We can beat that transfer student (laughs).

ND: When you bring the map out, Link does the same in the lower screen. That's cute.

Aonuma: And when you write on the map with the stylus, Link writes on the map too, did you notice that?

ND: Eh, really? (Checks it out) Ah, it's true! And when you erase something, he erases it too (laughs).

Aonuma: I didn't notice that at first.

Iwamoto: It was your son who told you that, right?

Aonuma: Yeah. I took it home to do some Wi-Fi tests and my five-year-old son got very interested in it. The truth is I don't let him play games before they are released, but I wanted to see the reaction of a little child, so I let him play. When he was writing down something with the stylus, he said Link was writing too. I thought he was lying, but when looked at the screen, I saw it was true (laughs).

ND: That was a feature the producer didn't know of (laughs). Speaking of little children, when you touch a kanji, the reading appears on the screen.

Aonuma: My son learnt to read kanji with that. Even some difficult ones, like "??."

ND: So it's an educational game (laughs).

Aonuma: We may have an even better chance to beat our rival (laughs).


ND: Tracing the ship route with the stylus is fun, and there are so many things to do at sea that you don't get tired of it.

Iwamoto: That's because that was our motto.

Aonuma: We included many things we wanted to have in The Wind Waker.

ND: The upper screen displays the sea chart, but it also shows other information, much like a radar...

Fujibayashi: Doesn't it give you the feeling the map's alive?

ND: Yes, it does. It's not a mere sea chart.

Aonuma: We didn't want to have an empty sea you just crossed to get from island to island. In order to turn the ocean into another "field," we included many elements, and it shows.

Iwamoto: That's a lesson we learnt from The Wind Waker... (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Aonuma: Of course, that's fine. You can create some nice things after analyzing the past.

ND: Any parts in particular?

Iwamoto: Having a large space with nothing happening, making it difficult to fight enemies while moving, and the salvage part too...

ND: This time you have to be careful with the salvage, and it makes you feel nervous.

Aonuma: That was another element I thought of after making The Wind Waker. The team understood those kind of things and developed many things; that made me feel happy.

Fujibayashi: We also put a lot of thinking from the very beginning into adjusting some elements, like how large the ocean would be, the size of the islands, the distance between islands and the cruising speed.

ND: When you're sailing it gives you the feeling the game has a scale fairly large for a portable game.

Aonuma: It does, doesn't it?


ND: The inhabitants of the islands have their own personality. From their design to their dialogue, it feels like they were born with a young sensitivity.

Aonuma: Well, most of the staff is young, starting with the main designer, and there are also many women. Regarind the dialogue... these two people (pointing to Mr. Iwamoto and Mr. Fujibayashi) are in charge of that, so it doesn't feel very young (laughs).

Iwamoto: We split the dialogue between four people, so every island has the personality of the person who did the dialogue for that location.

Fujibayashi: Finally, we revised it so that it didn't sound all disconnected. When I was reading through it, there were parts I could never have written, and that's where the personality of each island lies.

ND: Is there a reason why you named the first island of the adventure, "Mercay Island"?

Iwamoto: We named it after the Mercator Projection. And Molde Island's named after the Mollweide Projection.

Fujibayashi: People don't seem to notice that. By the way, at first we were going to use a title like, "The Map of X."

ND: I see, the X part was going to be related to a famous cartographer, right? Speaking of the title, you didn't name it "The Mysterious Hourglass" either [In Japan, both Oracles games and The Minish Cap had the adjective "mysterious" in their names].

Fujibayashi: That one was also a candidate.

Aonuma: In this adventure, there's a dungeon you have to visit many times, the "Temple of the Ocean King." There you encounter several times important enemies you can't defeat that we called "phantoms." And then there's the hourglass, a key item in the game. If you join these two elements in English, you get "Phantom Hourglass," which we announced at the GDC. The Japanese name, "Mugen no Sunadokei," is the translation of that title.

Fujibayashi: The American staff liked the word "hourglass," so they asked us to include it in the game's title.

Aonuma: As you progress in your adventure, you can use more time in the time-limited Temple of the Ocean King. We already had the game mechanics, but we kept thinking up until the final stages of an item that would make it possible.


ND: There are many new challenges, but the heart pieces are gone. Why's that?

Iwamoto: We thought it wasn't worth it to include many heart pieces. Instead of that, we decided to have hard challenges that would give you a heart container as a reward. Wouldn't you feel happier that way?

ND: Sure.

Iwamoto: So, this time you don't have to collect bottles, and your wallet's size doesn't change. You can accumulate many rupees from the beginning and there are some pretty expensive items you can buy (laughs). We used this kind of collecting side quest for the ship parts.

ND: By the way, are there any other side quests?

Aonuma: There are! But with some twists... Maybe too many twists (laughs). I wonder if people will notice them.

Iwamoto: There are no heart pieces to be found, but we included many fun elements. Minigames have a new air too.

ND: I'm glad Salvatore's coming back with a new minigame.

Aonuma: Ah, that... When I first saw it, I didn't like it.

ND: What kind of game was it?

Aonuma: No, it was the explanation I didn't like. He used that thing in his face, exactly like in The Wind Waker.

ND: So you didn't like his masks (laughs).

Aonuma: We didn't have many time in the final stage, but I wanted to change that and asked the team to do a storyboard of it.

Fujibayashi: A storyboard for the explanation of a mini game... (laughs)

ND: Salvatore's explanation made me laugh again. Although the story of Zelda games is serious, you get to laugh too.

Aonuma: That's the fruit of the staff's love towards the characters.

ND: I also wanted to ask you about puzzle solving, which you reinvented for the DS, but the game's being released soon.

Aonuma: Let's talk about that in the next issue! By the way, do I talk too much (laughs)?